What if they are both wrong?
Remember when I said I was going to leave politics to my personal site? Yeah, I lied.
After witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Simon & Schuster has decided to cancel publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book, THE TYRANNY OF BIG TECH. We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.
And the Senator responds:
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) January 7, 2021
What if they are both wrong? I think S&S, whose books I enjoy, should publish the book. I think the last sentence above makes little sense. Either you are open to a variety of voices or you are not. Publishing the book of a politician doesn’t mean you support their election or their views. I am not a fan of Hawley or his recent actions but canceling his contract will just make him a martyr to certain people and allow him to sell more books at Regnery or someplace like it.
I also think it is all too easy to project backward and cast everything in a new light. Again, I think the challenging of the electoral college votes was a mistake and dangerous politically for the precedent it would set. I don’t like Hawley’s populism and I am not a supporter of the entire Stop the Steal movement, the idea of coming to DC, or President Trump. But we have to draw a line as best we can between those who simply were wrong, deeply wrong even, about the crowd at the mall and the violence that took place.
I think Hawley should pay a political price for his actions. He was playing with fire and he got burned. Appropriate. But we should not allow ourselves to slip easily into the idea that by raising his fist to the crowd he explicitly approved of any actions they took that day. He could very well believe that the crowd was made up of supporters of the president who had valid concerns about the election or simply wanted to remind the country that they remain a political force to be reckoned with. I think President Trump, and those who gave that speeches that day, and who insisted the election was stolen spouting ridiculous conspiracy theories are a different matter.
Again, horrible political judgement and lack of leadership when calm and prudential action was needed? Absolutely. I think there was an opportunity to turn down the heat and move forward and a bunch of GOP politicians instead insisted on increasing the tension. Shame on them. But that doesn’t mean that Hawley wanted or expected violence when he walked past the crowd that morning; that he has “blood on his hands.”
Punish politicians by voting them out of office. Cancelling a book contract is not really part of the civic process. And as noted above, it is likely to backfire in the short run and raise his profile and those of the issues he promotes. But the publisher is well within their rights to cancel and I understand the pressure to do so.
Rather comically, the Senator and purported constitutional lawyer is also wrong about his book. This is not a “woke mob” (bad choice of words, BTW) and neither is it Orwellian nor a direct assault on the First Amendment. As a great many people on Twitter have pointed out, you don’t have a right to a book contract and in fact, because of the Speech and Debate Clause, Hawley has more protected speech than the average person.
This is part of the problem Ross Douthat has raised, and for which there seems no ready solution:
Like I said earlier, it’s hard for people caught up in it to acknowledge that political breakdown is an iterative, escalatory process, which is how the worst riots in decades get described as a broken window at a Jamba Juice:https://t.co/Lht4RtCKvF
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) January 7, 2021
In this case, I think both S&S and Senator Hawley chose the road of escalation. A small step in the grand scheme of things, but a step nonetheless.